GoPro just introduced their new Hero5 cameras (available October 2nd) and Karma drone (available October 23rd). I got to experience the launch event on September 19th at Squaw Valley, and was able to fly a Karma drone. I even had a bit of a chance to put the new cameras through their paces. Here are my initial impressions.
I’ll start with the drone, dubbed Karma. Karma’s a cool drone with a very reasonable price point: $799 without a camera. If you get it with a camera, you save $100 on the camera, which is a nice incentive. It has some nice features, like foldable arms to allow it to fit into a backpack as well as a stabilizer, which can be removed and attached to a hand grip for non-drone stabilized shots. The camera is mounted out in front of the drone instead of underneath it, which I’m told helps keep the blades out of the shot. I got a chance to fly it, and even without any drone experience, I didn’t crash it, and felt in control, despite gusts of winds on the side of a mountain. It has some very user friendly assistance modes, including auto launch and auto landing, which basically just flies up slowly to about 8-feet and hovers, until you take control. Auto landing returns it similarly, and can be aborted or adjusted by just taking control of the joysticks again.
It doesn’t have collision detection at this point, but that may come in the future. As it stands, GoPro didn’t feel like the collision detection was good enough, and left it off for now. It also doesn’t have follow-me capabilities yet, but it does have spiral and circle and similar controls, including a linear point A to point B flight path capability. More importantly, it has a great touchscreen on the controls. When not in use, the screen offers a simulator-training mode, which shows you both camera view, and a virtual view of the drone in a simulated environment.
This may be one of the best features because it gives you simulated flight time experience without having to find a place where you can practice. Additionally, you have a partner mode, which allows an Android or IOS device to pair with it and gives that user the capability of controlling the camera, so that one operator can focus on flying and the flight path, while the other can focus on framing. The stabilizer, being able to be used stand alone too, is awesome, in that it allows you to get really usable footage in very extreme circumstances, as demonstrated by the bike footage on the launch video. From the perspective of someone who likes to have lots of functionality without having to carry a ton of stuff (which I do too often), this all-in-one solution that fits in the included backpack is pretty awesome.
Hero5 Black & Hero5 Session Cameras
The two new cameras are the Hero5 Black ($399), and the Hero5 Session ($299). Regarding resolutions and frame rates, there really isn’t anything new on the Hero5 Black over the Hero4 Black, but, that isn’t to say there aren’t any big improvements, because there are. First, is the built-in touch screen, which means this is no longer an add on backpack, which saves on the depth of the camera, and gives a much needed feature, at a lower price, coming in at under $400. The touch-screen menus are also easier to navigate. One of the biggest improvements, in my opinion, is that the camera is waterproof without an enclosure, up to 33 feet. That may not seem like a big deal, except that it keeps the size down, not needing an external enclosure for normal (non-diving) applications, and the audio is vastly improved. In an enclosure, the audio was always pretty useless. They achieved waterproofing without an enclosure by using an air permeable but waterproof mesh, which allows sound to transfer to the mics without allowing water in.
Another critical feature both cameras have is electronic image stabilization, which you get at the sacrifice of a 10 percent zoom from wide, but which works well. Many shots that on older models would have been unusable, with the Hero5 cameras are now pretty presentable. Unfortunately because a crop is necessary to achieve EIS, it isn’t available in 4K mode.
I’ve put the EIS through the paces from mounting it on a remote-control car going over a really rough rock terrain track, to mounting it to a backpack mount while riding an E-Bike in the mountains, and have found the footage to be very usable. I also did some pretty serious durability testing of the Hero5 Session, (not necessarily intentionally) flipping my RC car about a dozen different times on big rocks. It got coated in dirt and some scuffs on the metal parts of the casing around the glass as well as on the skeleton frame, but it held up incredibly well and the glass is undamaged. If you did manage to crack the glass (which doesn’t seem likely), you can get a replacement for around $20.
Some less talked about but useful features are things like the ultra wide ‘Superview’ mode, as well as the ‘Linear’ mode, which is somewhere between Medium and Narrow, but has an undistorted image, both of which are really useful.
The Hero5 Black also has a Wide Dynamic Range option, but I haven’t had a chance to try this out.
Another new feature on the Hero5 Black is the addition of GPS, which, for now I believe, is limited to geotagging, but could, in the future be utilized for other features like GPS timecode, which could make editing multiple camera shoots much easier to sync.
The Hero5 Black also has a removable door cover over the USB-C and Micro HDMI ports, which allows you to still have access to those connections while mounted in its skeleton case, for when you need to power externally, use accessory cables, or feed out of the HDMI. The Hero5 Session has access to its USB-C port without the need to remove the door when mounted in its skeleton case.
USB-C is also a welcome addition. If you haven’t used a device with USB-C, you’ll like it. It’s still a small connector, but seems more robust than Micro USB. More importantly, it isn’t directional, so, whichever way you try to plug it in, it fits. It is nice to be able to just plug in without having to fiddle or look which way the plug is. It’s a little thing, but these cameras have lots of little features that just make them more convenient and useable.
These little conveniences, though minor, in actual usage, make it way more likely to be used. I know because I’ve been carrying the cameras with me, and have been using them to record things I never would have before. Another example of this is Voice Command capability, which allows you to start recording, change some settings, and turn the camera off without having to navigate menus, which is especially useful on the Hero5 Session, which doesn’t have a touch screen. Also, one0touch recording turns on the camera and starts recording, which is my four-year-old son’s favorite feature.
The Hero5 Session looks very similar to its predecessor, however has upgraded resolution capabilities with up to 4K at 30fps. Along with Voice Control and Image Stabilization, and a lower price point, it is a significant improvement.
One of the cool new accessories is the Remo, which is a waterproof, Bluetooth, record and select button controller with voice control, which comes with a wrist band and clip. It allows you to control the camera remotely.
They also now have a cool little MicroSD reader, called a Quick Key available for IPhone or Android, which allows you to transfer files directly to your phone or device.
GoPro is launching a new subscription service called GoPro Plus, which is $4.99/month. It automatically uploads your footage to the Cloud and once it has transferred the files, erases them off of your card. The idea is that, not only will you have access to your files from anywhere, but after filming, you can recharge your camera, and the next day, have an empty memory card and a full battery, so you are ready to go. It also gives you some editing software capabilities, which allow you to just select your video clips, and add some music from a library of available music. It precuts everything together, cutting on the beats. This is probably something people without editing experience will really like, because it has a very small learning curve, but it doesn’t allow enough control for experienced editors, who will want to have more control over the in and out points for their clips. The GoPro Plus subscription also gives 20 percent off of GoPro mounts and accessories.
New versions of the GoPro app will be available on October 2nd, which are now dubbed Quick Mobile and Quick for Desktop (pictured). The newly-branded apps have the same editing features I mentioned with GoPro Plus, as well as streamlined clip creation and sharing capabilities, but they don’t come with automatic Cloud uploading and have a much more limited music library than is unlocked with the GoPro Plus subscription.
The Karma drone and stabilizer are exciting, and having had chance to test fly it, I look forward to flying one again in the future. The price is low enough, and the ease of use high enough, that it makes me very interested.
At the Q&A, someone asked why you might buy this camera over the Hero4 Black? Honestly I couldn’t figure out why you’d buy a Hero4 Black? Waterproof without a case, built-in touch-screen monitor, Image Stabilization, GPS, Superview, Linear View, WDR, better sound, and a ton of other little improvements like USB-C — and a lower price point? It’s definitely worth the upgrade.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d have much use for any GoPro that didn’t have a monitor on it, which may be the filmmaker in me talking. But, I was surprised to find myself actually using the Hero5 Session more than the Hero5 Black, for a few reasons. First, I can mount it on the strap of my GoPro backpack, for a decent chest height mount, and just leave it. When doing something, it was out of the way, and wide enough angle, that if I needed it, I just hit the record button, and capture what I need, with no setup or messing with it. I could do the same with the Hero5 Black, but the Hero5 Session’s small size makes it that much more portable. I also wasn’t comfortable putting the Hero5 Black on the top of the remote controlled car, knowing it was going to get bashed up, and I didn’t want to damage the touch screen. I’ve also started carrying the Hero5 Session around in my pocket, so I can capture little moments that I wouldn’t think to capture in the past.
Nick Woodman, founder and CEO of GoPro, said some things that actually resonated with me, at the launch event, and even more so at the Q&A session. He said that although he likes to think he’s still action oriented, he’s realized that a lot of what he does now that he has younger kids, is more activity oriented. The improvements to the cameras reflect the desire to make these cameras more friendly to family activities than their predecessors.
He said that with a cell phone, when you are filming your kids, you are looking through a window and as a result are often not as in the moment with your kids. He spontaneously filmed his son, the day they took the training wheels off of his bike, and because he had a Session in his pocket, he was able to capture that footage. Since I’ve had my Session, I’ve done the same thing. No messing with anything, just press the record button, and the camera turns on, and within a few seconds starts recording, so I am able to catch moments I would have missed before. It’s been really cool. I also don’t worry about getting it wet, or dropping it like I would my phone. It’s also the first time my wife has expressed interest in having a camera in her purse to capture those moments when they happen.
I’ve had a Hero3 Black for three-and-a-half years, and I’ve used it to film some family things, but mostly only when I needed a waterproof camera. I found it too cumbersome for most activities to have to remove the memory card, copy the files, and then cut them, and send them via email, so I mostly only used it for actual production activities. There may have been a better way of doing this, but if so, I didn’t know about it. With the new Capture app, you can sync with your camera, and it seems a lot faster and more intuitive than the old GoPro app I used to use with my Hero3 Black.
Now, you quickly sync with your camera, select the clip you want to share, or create a clip from, set you input and duration, and then share through text or email, or whatever. It then downloads the file and shares, it. No messing with resolutions, codecs, or anything. I wish it gave me a little more control over the duration of the created clips, instead of preset lengths, but it really is something that makes it friendly and convenient enough for me to use instead of relying on my phone’s camera.
I’ve had a blast running these new cameras through the paces, and trying out the new workflows, which have been really painless, unlike some of my frustrating experiences in the past. I honestly didn’t know what GoPro had in the works, but I can say that I love these new cameras, and the improvements, for me at least, are ones that really matter.
Heath Firestone is a Producer/Director who operates Colorado-based Firestone Studios LLC. He can be reached at: Heath@FirestoneStudios.com.